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5-Years On

DND 101 Archive: CF Medium-Heavy Lift Helicopter  – Mil CH-178

Update: TF-Afg Air Wing stood down 18 Aug 2011. An AF listing of aircraft hours flown made no mention was made of the CH-178, only chartered SkyLink Mi-8s (which, interestingly flew more cargo by weight than all other CF cargo aircraft combined ). With Mi-17s in ANA service, it might be expected that the CH-178s would be handed on. But CH-178s are leased and at least 3 have already been flown out. [1]

DND has been leasing Russian Mil medium-lift helicopters  for the  Canadian Forces  for years. In that past,  that  has meant  contractor-owned and flown helicopters flying supplies for the CF but not carrying Canadian personnel.  DND has again leased Mils. But, this time, there is a major difference. These aircraft are being flown by CF personnel and  carrying  CF troops into combat.

Tragically Hip –  With the CH-178,  DND accepts 'Hip' Transport Helicopters 5 Years Late
Former CDS, Gen Rick Hillier identified the need for medium- lift helicopters to support Canadian Forces troops operating in Afghanistan back in 2005. One option was leasing readily available Mils.[2] But that option was unacceptable brushed aside by both Air Force and  MND  Peter MacKay.  Leasing takes the heat off of procurement and DND planning had set their caps on new CH-147F Chinooks with all the trimmings.

  Mil (Kazan Helicopters) Mi-17-V5 'Hip - H '  – Specifications
 Length: 18.4m (fuselage), 25.31m (OA, main
 rotor turning), width: 2.5m, height: 5.7m
  Rotor diameter:  21.29m (main rotor), 3.9m (tail rotor)
  Cabin size:  5.34m L x 2.34m W x 1.8m H, volume: 23 m3
  Weights:  max internal load: 4000kg, hoist: 5000kg [3]
  Performance:  cruise 230 km/h, max 300 km/h, range 715 km
 2 x Motor Sich (Isotov/Klimov) TV3-117 VM
 turboshaft engines, take-off power: 1490 kW
 (2000 shp), emerg. rating: 1640 kW (2200shp)

The CH-178 is the latest version Mil – the Mi-17-V5. Previously, DND had leased six Mils from Skylink of Toronto. By contrast with those earlier Mils, the CH-178s have a rear fuselage loading ramp and can also be distinguished by their 'dolphin' noses (with its more pointed radar radome). The Mi-17-V5 model first appeared in 1999 so, even conceptually, the CH-178s are much younger than the CF's preferred CH-147D Chinooks that the Mils operate alongside at Kandahar Airfield.

Of course, Mi-8/'17 series helicopters are already in widespread service in Afghanistan including leased civilian aircraft, special forces, and the Afghan Air Force.[4] The Afghans now have 31 Mi-17s in service (left). In October 2010, 6 new Mi-17-V5s identical to the CH-178 were delivered to the Afghan AF (right) but another four are expected  by  year's end. Meanwhile, DND must continue to lease Mils to balance its 5 second-hand Chinooks. [5] Despite being leased, the camouflaged Mils (first noted in May 2010) have been assigned the CF serials 178404-178407.[5]

Leased Medium-Lift: In uniform and out of dress
As mentioned,  DND also leased civilian Mi-8Ts [7] from SkyLink since Nov 2008. The six early-model Mils are provided  by  SkyLink's partners. Canadian media and parliamentarians have reacted to secrecy surrounding the lease of camouflaged aircraft flown by Canadian aircrews. [8]  DND claims that this was done through competitive bidding but the evidence in the form of any MERX notices was missing. [9]

[1] In an update to his Canadian Military Aircraft Serial Numbers: Canadian Armed Forces - February 1968 to present, Bill Walker revealed that "At least 3 [CH-178] were airfrieghted to Graf Ignatievo air base in Bulgaria on 18 August 2011, with the Canadian markings covered".
[2] The 'Canadian content' mentioned in the photo caption refers to Kelowna Flightcraft's Mi-17KF Kittiwake (a quickly-rejected Maritime Helicopter Project contestant). Kelowna Flightcraft was contracted to produce an updated Mi-17 in 1996. Their prototype (RA-70877) was flown in 1997, certified in North American in 1998. The Mi-17KF became the Mi-172/Mi-17-3V which led to the current Mi-17-5V model.
[3] The Kazan Helicopters website lists the "[m]aximum load on the sling" as only 4500 kg.  A secondary, door hoist can also be mounted.
[4] Formerly the Afghan National Army Air Corps,  in June 2010,  President Hamid Karzai ordered a name-change to the Afghan Air Force.
[5] Six used US Army CH-147D Chinooks were bought specifically for the Afghan mission – where the five survivors serve alongside the leased Mils and CH-146 Griffon utility helicopters. Planned-for CH-147Fs won't enter service until the CF Afghan combat mission is over.
[6] This is not unusual for DND. Many leased aircraft (training and UAVs) are given CF designations –  eg:  CT-102 Astra, CT-111 Firefly, CH-139 JetRanger, CT-145 King Air, CT-146 Outlaw, CT-155 Hawk, CT-156 Harvard II, CU-160 Eagle, CU-163 Altair and CU-170 Heron
[7] The type distinction seems to have been important. WikiLeaks released a cable from the US Embassy in Ottawa on 9 June 2009 entitled Canada: No Mi-17 Helicopters  saying that Canadian officials had confirmed "that  there are no  Mi-17 helicopters in Canadian military or civilian aircraft inventories." It's not clear whether this was to confirm lack current availability or to ensure the stability of the CH-47F buy.
[8] That leased Mi-17-V5s were crewed by CF personnel was confirmed by PAffO Lt(N) Kelly Rozenberg-Payne in David Pugliese's article.
[9] For DND leases, MERX publishes requests for Letters of Interest, Notice of Planned Procurement, or Advance Contract Award Notice.